But I would drive 500 miles, and I would drive 500 more…


Cinder, 13 (too grown up, not adult enough, don’t hurry, my love, stay a little boy longer, longer), wakes me up at 4:30 in the morning on a day on which I’ve set the alarm for 5:08 a.m. in anticipation of an eight-hour road trip. He has a sore throat, is sniffly, hasn’t slept all night, and it’s almost time to wake up, and he’s upset.

“I’m sick, is this going to ruin our trip to Kelowna?”

he asks, on the verge of tears (too grown up to dare to cry, not grown up enough to know that you never stop needing to). He’s been looking forward to this trip, counting down the days, for nine months—since the last one.

“Nothing is going to ruin our trip to Kelowna,”

I promise boldly.

“I’m going to dope you up and give you a bag of lozenges to suck on through the car ride. You will snooze and rest. And by the time you are on a beach with your friends, you will be fine.”

(Hey, sore throat and runny nose: We reject your reality and substitute our own.*)

603.2 kilometres, eight hours through the winding Rocky Mountain roads, three over-excited children, one under-slept driver.

“Jesus, Mom, are you stopping for coffee again? We’re never going to get there!”

“Do you want to live? If I don’t drink more coffee, we will really never get there.”

But we get there, we get there in record time, by 1 p.m., we are eating cake for lunch. The Posse is reunited, and my best girl and I are crying all over each other’s shoulders, and an hour later, seven kids are in Lake Okanagan, and two women are trying to say EVERYTHING to each other.

nbtb-500 miles

“How can you guys have so much to say to each other? You text every day!”

—that, from Flora, to me and Marie.

“How can you guys have missed each other so much? You Skype for hours every day!”

—that, from me to the Posse.

^^^And there, in an oversimplification that isn’t, you’ve got everything that’s wrong with cyber-tribes. They’re contact, connection… but they’re not enough.


I can’t remember when I first met Marie. “Isn’t that funny?” I tell her. I do remember a handful of awkward first contacts, coffees, “playdates” (I fucking hate that phrase). I can’t quite remember, though, either what it was that drew me to her—nor the moment at which I realized we were friends, and life-long friends at that. (Neither one of us is particularly fond of strangers.) Maybe it was that her house, like mine, had a solidly “lived in,” messy look. That her kids were barefoot and always moving and even louder than mine (to be fair, there were more of them). Or that we could go together to the river for six, seven hours—and either talk for all six of those hours or be silent for most of the seven, and it was all good.

She taught me more about vulnerability and courage than any other human I’ve encountered on my journey so far.


Stretched out in the hot sun while the kids play in the cold water, Marie and I talk about boys, girls, husbands, exes, currents, potentials, children, shoes, books, art, writing, work, the red dress or the blue dress, the meaning of life, ticks, fleas, “what do bed bug bites look like anyway?” (don’t ask) and how to get caterpillar gut stains out of white cotton (you can’t).

“Mooom! I’m hungry!”

“I’m bored!”

“Mom! He called me a…”

“They’re picking on me!”

“Mom, where’s my life jacket?”

“Mooooom, I need…”

nbtb-kids on raft

We feed them. Water them. Re-apply sunscreen. Deliver a lecture on big people taking care of little people, and on not being asses to each other, and then tell them to go the hell away. We have more talking to do.


She leaves me in charge of supper when she goes to work. I go all out:

nbtb-simple supper

Then, I work too:

nbtb-sleeping while i work

When she comes back, half the children are gaming, and the other half unconscious:**

nbtb-gamers and jumpers

(I mean sleeping. Really.)

(Half of seven is… well, I can’t chop one of them in half. You know what I mean. Fractions are not poetic.)

I pour wine. We talk some more. When the gamers interrupt us, looking for more snacks (“For goddsakke, do you guys NEVER stop eating?” “Never!” “Not true—we were just gaming for two hours with not a single snack break!”), we’re crying. Or laughing.

It’s hard to tell the difference.

Both are necessary.


We’re still, by the way, texting. While she’s at work:

“Hey, the twins and Ender are riding skateboards in the house. Is that cool? What are your house rules around that?”

While she’s making sure the kids don’t drown and I’m getting coffee:

“If it’s not too late, honey in my cappuccino, k, babe? Oh, and remind me to tell ya what happened on Tuesday when…”

While I’m at the grocery store:

“For Chrissake, this is fucking British Columbia, why is there no local produce in this store?”

“Where are you?”

“Your local IGA.”

“Yeah, it sucks. You need to go to…”


We watch our kids love each other and love being with each other, and it makes us love them more—and each other more. “Do you think they will be friends, when they are 20? When they are 40?” she asks. We don’t know, of course.

But we do know we, Marie and I, are going to be friends when we’re 60. 78.*** I’m gonna give her rides on my Vespa scooter. She’s going to buy me costume jewelry at Value Village. We’re going to wear age-inappropriate bikinis on Okanagan beaches and talk about boys, girls, husbands, exes, currents, potentials, children, grandchildren, orthopedic shoes (can they be sexy? Or do we just need to stop trying?) and support stockings (oh, those varicose veins!), books, art, writing, work, the red dress or the blue dress, the meaning of life, people who look like their pets, dentures, people who piss us off (“maybe it’s her, maybe it’s too much Botox”), and whether lime green toe nail polish on your 76-year-old feet is a strike against ageism or a cry for help (“Independence, baby! Don’t you fucking dare tell me what I can or cannot do to my toes!”).

And when I’m too blind, to old to ride that Vespa, I’m gonna make my kids drive me that 603.2 kilometres… and they’re not going to ask why.



nbtb-girls on the town

FOOTNOTES (cause that’s how I roll)

*You may think I’m quoting Mythbusters’ Adam Savage here, but he’s actually quoting Paul Bradford in The Dungeon Master so there you have a quote within a quote within a quote…

**Aunt Augusta—you know Aunt Augusta, right? If you don’t, let me introduce you here: On yelling, authenticity, aspiration, and the usefulness of judgemental relatives-and-strangers—looks at this photo and pursues her lips.

“And you drove 603.2 km so they could play video games in the same room instead of via Skype why, exactly?” she says.

“I drove 603.2 km so that they could play video games in the same room instead of via Skype, exactly,” I smile. “Are you going to your bridge night tonight, Auntie? Yeah? Why, exactly?”

***I had my major life crisis at 38.5-39.2, from which I infer that I will shed this mortal coil at 77-78. I’m good with that. Right now, anyway.

And on that uplifting note, please enjoy this fabulous Proclaimers song:


“It takes a village”—and that village ain’t paradise. What most “community seekers” don’t understand about building community


First, a text vignette:

Villager: Hey—do you know where the nearest registry is? Just realized our car is still unregistered!

Me: Just up the hill, by the library.

Villager: Ok, thanks.

Me: Do you need a ride?

Villager: Nah, what’s one more trip?

Me: K. Call me if you need bail money.

Villager: K. Thanks. Altho’ I might just stay in jail and get some rest. Will send the kids to you in a cab tho’. With a house key so you can feed the dogs.

Me: K.


Now, a child-care vignette:

On Mondays, I pack my two littles (the near-teen is still sleeping!) into the truck first thing in the morning and drive them over to a friend’s house. Then gym (self-care, first!) and then work. Sometimes, I rush back to pick up my crew to get back home as another friend’s kids get off school and need to be looked after while their mom goes and earns some moolah.

On Tuesdays, a villager (the same one I might need to bail out of jail if the cops pull her over driving sans registration) brings her duo over as she leaves for her sanity break. I’m “gap” care until their dad gets off work and can come hang with them at their mom’s house until she comes back. Another friend’s partner swings by to pick up one of mine to take her to extra-curricular activities.

On Wednesdays, she takes mine for a couple of hours in the afternoons, so I can run downtown and schmooze clients. When Sean comes home that night, I might tell him, as I run out the door laptop in hand, that there is one-two-three extra children upstairs, because something’s come up for Jan…

(…or, I might forget to tell him, and he’ll just find out when one of the extra kids wanders downstairs and say, “I’m hungry. When’s supper?”)

On Thursdays, I take the littles (“I am not little!” protests Flora) to your house for the day. Gym. Time out for lunch with a friend. Work. Focused time with the near-teen. Kid pick-up.

On Fridays, I take your child. And, I’m childcare for anyone who needs it. I don’t attempt to squeeze any real work in—although every once in a while now, as they’re all getting older, I can manage a phone call or return email.

On Saturdays, Flora usually lives at other people’s houses. “I’ll be at Moxie’s!” “I’m going to Mimi’s!” “Can we go to the mall with Nelly’s mom’s friends?” “Rory’s going swimming, can I go?” I’m usually gone for most of the morning and early afternoon, writing in coffee shops. When I come back… “Where are the boys?” A neighbour took them sledding, skating. “You mean we’re alone?” We go for a walk. Other things.

I’m on deadline, and so my mom offers to take the kids on Tuesday. “I have two extra in the afternoon,” I say. “What’s two more?” she asks.




These are the ties that bind:

A phone call, a neighbour: “We have extra tickets to…” Yes!

A knock on the door: “I just got a call from T., and she’s stuck on top of the hill—the battery died. I’m home alone with the kids—can you or Sean go?” Yes.

A text: “What are you doing for dinner? Potluck? I have chicken and not a single vegetable in the house.” Awesome. I have no meat, but a sack-o-carrots and a bag of frozen peas…

Facebook post: “We need ALL YOUR TOWELS and MOPS at #6 RIGHT NOW.”


There’s also this:

Far-away friend: So we hit yyc on the 27th . Can we night over at your place?

Me: Shoot. We’re away until the 30th. But everyone on the lane has keys. What time do you get in? I’ll make sure someone can let you in.


The moral:

Here’s the thing you either get or don’t—at this moment, I’m at the point of thinking that if you don’t GET it, there is nothing I can say to make you get it, and yet, here I am, again, trying.

I don’t live in paradise.

These supportive-connective relationships I have, they’re not effortless. They’re not some magic thing that just happens.

This web of give-and-take in which no one keeps score but everyone gets what they need? All this takes FOREVER to create. Like… decades. Years at the least. And it takes effort. It takes investment. It takes WORK.

It takes… oh, what’s the word? Realism, I think. Not all the people you help, who help you, whom you need, who need you—not all of these people are people you love. Some of them you spark with immediately, and others it takes two, five years to really get to know. Some of them annoy the shit out of you when you first meet—and that doesn’t change much five years later.

You’re not a love affair, you’re not a romance, you’re not eternally-bound kindred spirits who read each other’s minds and fulfill each other’s dreams.

You’re a village. A community. A tribe.

Sometimes you work really well… and sometimes you piss each other off.

You come together in a crisis… and then descend into immature internecine warfare over lame, don’t-matter-anything-in-the-big-picture (“What do you mean! Of course they do!”) details.


Villager: Which one am I?

Me: You annoy the shit out of me about 30 per cent of the time.

Villager: That’s pretty good.

Me: I think so.


So very grateful for my village. Absolutely dogmatic about the fact that if you don’t have one—you need to start building it. Today.



 Post-Script: “Easy for you to say, Jane. How the hell do I start?”

Small steps. Small steps. Get a neighbour’s phone number. Then text them. Invite them for coffee. Regift a fruitcake. That woman you’ve been passing in the stairway for the past six years? Say, “Hi. I’m just going to the grocery store—do you need anything?” And keep. On. Doing. It.

For years.

“But the thing is, Jane… right now? I can’t really give. I just need… and I don’t want to be a mooch. You know?”

Christ. Do I ever, beloved. Both my geographic-village—my physically near neighbours—and my heart-village—my intentional tribe, my creative coven—have been hammered by life’s caprices in the last couple of years. And we’ve often found ourselves looking at each other in helplessness and exhaustion, and saying, “I want to help you. I really want to help you. But I can barely breathe myself, I can barely keep my head above the water.” It’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it? Dual helplessness. I can’t help you… you can’t help me… what the hell is going to happen to us?

What I’ve learned: when I can’t help myself, I can usually still see a way to help you. And when you think you’re totally stretched to the limit… it’s easier to help me than to “fix” yourself. So. The chaos-mess-stress of my life is overwhelming me… but I can get your groceries for you. Drop in for a coffee and listen to you cry. Watch your kids, even though I feel I’m rarely sufficiently present for mine. You’re sick, exhausted and going not-a-little-mad from the pressures of THAT… but when you see a way to offer me relief, you give yourself relief. Cleaning my kitchen floor is easier and more fulfilling than cleaning yours.

One of the most profound memories I have from that flood thing is coming back, dirty and tired, to my dirty and messy house… to find two of my neighbours washing my dishes (two weeks old) and scrubbing my mud-covered kitchen floor. On which I then collapsed (mud-covered) and wept. Gods know they had enough to do in their own houses…

Go clean someone’s kitchen floor today. It’s a start.

NBTB-it takes a village